What is your average social media consumption time in a day? When is the last time you stopped to think about the effects of social media on your life? Editing our images and only posting the most "Insta-worthy" shots has made our virtual lives so far removed from our actual lives. If your social media experience feels like being stuck in a toxic relationship where you can only show a part of you, it is time to make some changes.
Generally, social media has been there for us, especially through the pandemic. As human beings are innately social creatures, COVID-19 lockdowns limited that basic survival need, to which the global population inevitably turned to social media to meet it halfway. Our mental health and happiness rely heavily on the strength of our connections. The companionships we share with others help ease anxiety, depression, stress, prevent loneliness, provide comfort and joy, and even increase our life span. Contrarily, lack of which can pose a detrimental risk to our emotional and mental wellbeing.
Like many others, social media was my dear friend as I survived through 2020 and all its trials and tribulations. Zoom became my safe haven for video and audio communication, both for personal and professional needs. Sending memes and TikToks to my friends and family from another time zone became my love language. Social media provides a platform to provide real-time updates, activate our creativity, explore self-expression, and seek or offer support to loved ones. I believe it's safe to say that social media plays a vital role in helping survive the ongoing pandemic and all the unexpected events of current times.
However, I also recognised a massive dip in my mental well-being as I continued to rely on social media for news and other updates. Working from home in a city already so far from my hometown in Dubai, felt like an instigator for increased feelings of isolation and anxiety. In June 2020, I recall being at my all-time low during the outbreak of the Black Lives Matter Movement protests. I was deeply distressed by the occurrences of the time and social media only caused it to worsen. Misinformation, over-consumption, and disparaging comments from social media users was inescapable. Add homesickness with physical isolation while doomscrolling through Instagram and you have a human at the verge of social media overdose. I wonder as a society, did we all fall victim to this type of addiction at some point in our lives?
Fortunately, I have since minimised my online consumption drastically and found that it can barely alleviate stress and make one feel positive the way real-world human connections do. Social media as a notion, therefore, seems paradoxical - is it good or bad for you?
Here's a little breakdown of when exactly the phenomenon becomes toxic and impacts your psychological well-being
Anxiety and Insecurity
Social media's continuous showcasing of filtered and highly edited images oftentimes leave one feeling insecure and anxious about their own appearance and lifestyle. We tend to misinterpret social media posts for what it seems like rather than for what it truly is.
Upon having an open discussion with a few of my colleagues about the impacts of social media in their lives, the majority claimed that it instilled feelings of competitiveness, guilt from being less prepared, less aware, and short of clout.
Comparison Culture and FOMO
Virtually viewing only the highlights of everyone's lives and rarely the low points also heightens comparison culture and exacerbate the ****fear of missing out (FOMO) - a feeling that others are living better lives or having more fun than you.
With job redundancies, economic declines, and widespread company shutdowns, many of us have undeniably turned to our phones to use social media as a "security blanket" to feed our insatiable desire for virtual distraction.
Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google stated that "we're training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid we have a digital pacifier for ourselves that is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” Our capacity to manage negative experiences or situations is rapidly deteriorating on a global scale. By using our mobile devices as a crutch, we are principally disabling our ability to connect with others around us. We are going into airplane mode, not on our phones, but in real life.
Ironically for technology designed to bring people together, the overconsumption of social media could therefore be masking underlying problems, such as boredom, depression, or stress while heightening feelings of isolation and loneliness. Needless to say, the more we focus on sharing manipulated lifestyles and prioritise social media interactions, the more we foster **unhealthy self-centredness** and distance ourselves from real-life relationships. While it can be initially difficult to break the habit, allowing yourself to feel and be aware of the consequences of your actions can open you up to discover healthier ways to manage your moods.
Albeit easier said than done, I found a few practices that disciplined my social media consumption and drastically improved my mental health. Without further ado, here's a list of actions that have the potential to challenge your relationship with virtual feed-
- Minimize time spent online. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania (2018) ascertained that minimising time spent online to 30 minutes a day resulted in a significant reduction in levels of sleep problems, FOMO, and mood disorders. The study also concluded that if not cut back on time online, just being mindful of your social media activity can have favourable results on your mood and focus.
- Nurture your offline relationships. At its best, social media is an instrumental tool for facilitating real-life connections, which we need to be happy and healthy. Finding ways to disconnect from the virtual world and having meaningful deep conversations and interactions with friends and family can help enrich these connections further.
- Shift your focus. If you are accessing social media to obtain specific information, support a friend, or share images, your experience is likely variant from one who is logging in because they are bored, to see what they are missing out on, or how many likes they have received on their recent post. Therefore, by shifting your focus on logging off, you can not only minimize the time spent online but also avoid negative aspects of social media whilst simultaneously augmenting your experience.
- Convey gratitude. Feeling and conveying gratitude about the more significant parts of your life can bring about relief and consolation to the animosity and discontentment sometimes engendered by social media.
- Filter your following list not your images. Mindfully curating your following list can make significant positive changes to your social media consumption experience. Follow accurate media outlets and influential individuals that practice self-love and share authentic moments and dialogues. Here's a list of 15 amazing Instagrammers that magnificently promotes self-esteem and confidence among their followers. You're welcome.
PRMG wants to motivate you to look deeper, to look beyond what you see on social media - as an image online hardly ever depicts the true emotions or mental well-being of the person/s involved. This is your reminder to protect your space, set boundaries, be mindful and aware of your moods while using social media.